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Week 19 Game Recap: San Diego Chargers 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 35

What you need to know

San Diego Chargers

QB Philip Rivers put up big statistics on a day when he was under almost constant pressure. He was as effective as possible considering the lack of a run game for the Chargers, and even the interception wasn't entirely his fault.

Save for a fairly meaningless 62 yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter, RB Darren Sproles was very quiet offensively. He had just 15 rushing yards on his 11 carries.

WR Vincent Jackson made a terrific catch to haul in a 41 yard touchdown two minutes into the game, but went on to catch just one more pass the rest of the way.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers used a power ground game and a short passing attack to dominate the San Diego defense. Pittsburgh had 42 rushing attempts to San Diego's 12, and the third quarter stats demonstrate just how much they dominated. Pittsburgh ran 24 plays to San Diego's one. Pittsburgh had 122 total yards to San Diego's 0. And Pittsburgh controlled the clock for 14:43, allowing San Diego to possess the ball for just seventeen seconds the entire quarter.

QB Ben Roethlisberger wasn't getting a ton of time early on, but as the game wore on and the Charger defense began to tire, he had all the time in the world. He didn't complete a ton of long passes, but they converted a number of third down and long situations using underneath shorter passes.

RB Willie Parker was consistently moving the chains from beginning to end. He totaled 146 yards on the ground to go along with two touchdowns and really helped set the tempo right from the outset.


What you ought to know

QB Philip Rivers, Pass: 21 - 35 - 308 - 3 TD / 1 INT

Rivers opened the game as well as one possibly can against the best defense in football. On San Diego's opening drive, he completed his first two passes for a total of 33 yards. And on his third pass, he tossed a perfect strike down the seam for a 41 yard touchdown bomb to WR Vincent Jackson. Rivers was hit as he threw, but still put the ball in an absolutely perfect spot. On his next deep ball attempt, he again tried to hook up with Jackson, this time down the sideline. It was initially ruled a 43 yard reception, but after a challenge by the Steelers, replays confirmed that the ball had hit the ground and it was ruled incomplete.

In the second half, Rivers and the Chargers were hit by some bad luck. Following a Pittsburgh touchdown drive, Darren Sproles had a 63 yard kick return to the Pittsburgh 23 yard line that seemed to put the Chargers in business. Unfortunately for them, Rivers' first pass from scrimmage was deflected into the air and intercepted by the Steelers. After forcing a punt on that possession, S Eric Weddle allowed the ball to bounce off his helmet and it was recovered by the Steelers. Yet despite driving, the Steelers again came up with zero points. Despite not scoring any points, those two turnovers hurt Rivers directly because they combined to enable the Steelers an extra 6:34 of possession that they otherwise wouldn't have had. The Chargers offense was on the field for all of one play in that third quarter.

In the final frame, they tried making up for lost time to an extent. First, Rivers capped a quick scoring drive with a four yard strike to WR Legedu Naanee from four yards out. He also found the aforementioned Sproles down the seam for a relatively easy and meaningless 62 yard touchdown pass. Yet despite the fourth quarter scores, all was not well as the Steelers were bringing loads of pressure. A lot of times, Rivers was forced into either bad passes or bad decisions because of the relentless pass rush and he didn't look terribly sharp a lot of the time.

RB Darren Sproles, Rush: 11 - 15 - 0, Rec: 5 - 91 - 1 (6 targets)

Sproles looked set up to have a huge game early on. He turned the corner with precision on his first reception of the game, showing good footing and a quick burst despite the wintry conditions. He looked shifty inside and seemed able to get out of the way of the defenders that were coming to meet him in the backfield. That was perhaps the biggest issue for San Diego's rushing attack. It wasn't that Sproles was bad, despite what the numbers look like. What actually happened is that the Pittsburgh defenders were living in the San Diego backfield. Sproles actually did well to get back to the line of scrimmage more often than not. And despite the frustrations of an 11 carry, 15 yard game, all was not lost. He broke a 63 yard kick return early in the third quarter that temporarily restored momentum to San Diego, and he later ran a straight burst down the seam for a 62 yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. It was a fairly meaningless touchdown that made the score 35-24, but it still showed off the outstanding speed for the free agent-to-be.

RB Michael Bennett, Rush: 1 - 0 - 0, Rec: 1 - 6 - 0 (1 targets)

With San Diego trailing for much of the game, there wasn't much room for establishing a rushing attack. And when Pittsburgh controlled the ball for 14:43 in the third quarter, that made a ground game just about impossible. The Chargers took to the air, which meant there was almost nothing left in the way of touches for Bennett.

RB LaDainian Tomlinson

Tomlinson was a pre-game inactive for the first time since 1/2/05, a game he only sat out because the Chargers were resting up for the postseason.

WR Chris Chambers, Rec: 4 - 72 - 0 (5 targets)

Chambers turned in what has become a typical performance from him in 2009. He caught four passes, with a long of 25. That long pass was down the seam late in the fourth quarter that helped set up the Naanee touchdown, and came at a time when the outcome of the game was still very much in question. His other long catch of the game, for 20 yards, came in garbage time on San Diego's last possession.

WR Vincent Jackson, Rec: 2 - 49 - 1 (6 targets)

Jackson hauled in a tremendous 41 yard touchdown bomb less than two minutes into the contest. He had beaten CB Ike Taylor down the middle of the field and he made the grab despite Taylor hooking his elbow as the ball got there (no flag was thrown, however). Jackson appeared to have made a catch for the ages early in the second quarter. He got wide open behind the defense, but the pass from QB Philip Rivers sailed a bit too far. Jackson laid out for the pass in full extension and appeared to make a remarkable grab with just his fingertips. It was initially ruled a 43 yard catch, but replays showed the nose of the ball hit the ground. It was challenged by the Steelers, and overturned. With the early-game fireworks, Jackson appeared well on his way to a big day. However, he would go on to catch just one more pass, and that was for just eight yards.

WR Legedu Naanee, Rec: 1 - 4 - 1 (3 targets)

Naanee's afternoon started poorly, as he missed a tackle on Santonio Holmes during a punt return touchdown that would have prevented him from getting into the end zone. But Naanee will likely remember this as the day he caught his first NFL touchdown. It came off a quick slant from four yards out early in the fourth quarter, and cut Pittsburgh's lead to 28-17.

TE Antonio Gates, Rec: 5 - 59 - 0 (6 targets)

Gates put up stats that were, for him, very marginal. He opened up with a 21 yard reception on the first play from scrimmage but was fairly quiet after that. He finished with 59 yards, meaning he had just 38 more after that first initial reception. There have been far more instances than ever before this season where Gates disappears from the offense for longs stretches of time, and this afternoon's game was the latest example.

PK Nate Kaeding 1 - 1 FG, 3 - 3 XP, 6 points

Kaeding was perfect on his only field goal attempt, coming from 42 yards out. He apparently injured his groin in last week's win over the Colts, but showed no ill effects despite the weather conditions.

SD Rush Defense

Pittsburgh did a great job of opening up holes for Willie Parker right from the opening drive of the game. Early in the second quarter, the Steelers had so much success running the football that they did it almost nonstop. They got a great push up front from the line on Parker's first touchdown run, as the blockers were absolutely driving San Diego defenders back on their heels. It didn't help, either, that the Charger defenders were missing tackles all over the field.

The Chargers regrouped a bit as the game went along, however. First, Antwan Applewhite sniffed out a fake punt attempt and drove Ryan Clark backward for a four yard loss. Then early in the fourth quarter, Carey Davis was stuffed short of the end zone on a fourth and goal rush to keep the score 21-10 Pittsburgh. It was a run of success that wasn't built to last, however, as the San Diego defense just got more and more tired as the game went on. On its next goal line stand attempt, Gary Russell burst into the end zone on a first down run, and Parker broke through for a 16 yard score one possession later.

SD Pass Defense

Unlike the first meeting between these two teams earlier in the season, this time around the Chargers couldn't generate any kind of pass rush. In the first meeting, they sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times. In this game, they got to him just once. By the second half, San Diego wasn't even able to get to Roethlisberger even when they were blitzing. On one particular drive in the third quarter, the Steelers converted on a third and seven, third and eleven, and finally third and eight. All three were converted with the pass, and there was no one anywhere near Roethlisberger on any one of them. In fact, the Chargers were fortunate that it wasn't much worse. Twice WR Santonio Holmes got wide open behind the defense for a deep ball only to have Roethlisberger overthrow him on each occasion. Later, rookie WR Limas Sweed got behind the defense for what should have been a 66 yard touchdown pass from QB Byron Leftwich, but Sweed let the ball bounce off his hands.

In addition to the defensive front getting good pressure, the defensive backs didn't help much either. Besides letting Holmes run free in the deep secondary, WR Nate Washington drew a long pass interference penalty on S Eric Weddle in the end zone. That helped set up a touchdown that made the score 28-10 and out of reach. CB Cletis Gordon was also in on the coverage of Washington on the play because starter Quentin Jammer had earlier left the contest with a cramp. LB Shaun Phillips also briefly left the game after taking an elbow to the throat, but he was okay.


QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pass: 17 - 26 - 181 - 1 TD / 0 INT

Early on, Roethlisberger looked a bit rusty as the Steelers had a little bit of trouble moving the football against San Diego. But by the second quarter, it was obvious that Roethlisberger was going to have a nice game. He was getting tons of time to throw the football, even when the Chargers were blitzing. He even threw a key block to take out DE Luis Castillo on a third down WR reverse handoff, which proved that Roethlisberger was feeling no ill effects from the concussion he suffered two weeks ago.

The key to this game was the fact that he got so much time to throw the ball, which in turn meant a lot of sustained drives for the Steelers. Never was that more evident than during the third quarter when the Steelers controlled the ball for all but 17 seconds of game play. They converted three separate third down and long plays, capping the possession with Roethlisberger's only touchdown pass of the day (off a play fake to TE Heath Miller). He could have easily had better passing statistics, but he misfired on at least three passes that could have gone for big yardage. First, he missed WR Santonio Holmes for what would have been about a thirty yard completion. He again missed Holmes with an overthrow for what could have been a possible 49 yard touchdown pass. And he also missed Miller wide open in the flat on a pass that he tried to rush. But despite the missed opportunities, Roethlisberger did more than enough to secure the victory and made a number of big-time passes; certainly enough to convince us that he's not still feeling the effects of the concussion, at least.

RB Willie Parker, Rush: 27 - 146 - 2 (1 targets)

Parker was helped along by his offensive line opening up mammoth holes for him early on and throughout the contest. He got great blocking on his first touchdown run, as the San Diego defenders that came up to make the play were absolutely driven backwards. But it wasn't only the blocking that got the job done; Parker himself had a phenomenal game. He was fighting for extra yardage on just about every play, and he was getting that extra yardage on just about every play. It seemed as if he picked up five or six yards with each touch of the football. He added a second touchdown late in the fourth quarter, this time from 16 yards out, to cap his performance. He was close to a touchdown earlier but was tackled down at the one yard line. The only thing negative regarding Parker is the lack of goal line touches that he sees, but he is good enough to score from just about any spot on the field so it doesn't affect his value too much.

RB Mewelde Moore, Rush: 3 - 13 - 0, Rec: 2 - 12 - 0 (2 targets)

Moore was mostly quiet out of the backfield, limited to third down situations for the most part. He had just five offensive touches, none of which were terribly crucial in the grand scheme of things. His long gain on the day was a nine yard reception.

RB Gary Russell, Rush: 4 - 5 - 1

Used almost exclusively in short yardage situations, Russell got the call on a number of occasions in this game. Midway through the second quarter, he was called upon to convert a third and one carry. He picked up the necessary yardage with a strong second effort. Then late in the third quarter, he took a third down carry to the goal line but could go no further. Carey Davis came in for the ensuing goal line run but was stuffed. On Pittsburgh's next possession, Russell again got the call from the one and this time he converted. The touchdown put the Steelers up 28-10 and effectively put the game out of reach.

RB Carey Davis, Rush: 1 - 0 - 0, Rec: 3 - 7 - 0

One carry and three receptions aren't ordinarily enough to warrant mentioning, but Davis was involved in one of the bigger plays of the game (at least at the time). Facing a fourth down and goal at the San Diego one yard line to open the fourth quarter, Davis got the call to try and get in the end zone. He lost the handle on the exchange and never was able to get enough momentum to push into the end zone. The Steelers turned it over on downs, though it didn't cost them much. It was Davis' long rush attempt of the afternoon. On Pittsburgh's next goal line attempt, it was Gary Russell who got the call (and converted for the touchdown).

WR Santonio Holmes, Rush: 2 - 7 - 0, Rec: 2 - 25 - 0 (5 targets)

Holmes helped grab back the momentum after San Diego jumped out to an early 7-0 lead. He took a harmless looking punt return back the other way 68 yards for the touchdown, a play that really got the team going. He could have provided some fireworks on offense as well, if Roethlisberger hadn't missed him twice for big plays. The first was a potential 30 yard pass at the ten yard line that Roethlisberger simply misfired. The second was a deep ball that should have been completed. Holmes beat the defense downfield and again had gotten wide open, but Roethlisberger's pass was overthrown for what should have been a 49 yard touchdown pass.

WR Hines Ward, Rec: 4 - 70 - 0 (5 targets)

Ward had eleven catches in the first meeting between these two teams, but San Diego did a far better job on him in this game. They held him to just 70 yards on four receptions, though one of his catches did go for 41 yards. He didn't come close to scoring, but he made his presence felt simply by being there. After the first meeting, the Chargers knew they had to account for him on every play. All the attention being paid to him helped open up the middle of the field for the running game to really work well.

WR Nate Washington, Rec: 3 - 30 - 0 (6 targets)

Washington caught just three passes and none were longer than 18 yards, so his impact in the game wasn't large. But he did draw a key pass interference penalty in the end zone on S Eric Weddle late in the fourth quarter. That play helped set up a Gary Russell touchdown, a score that would put Pittsburgh up 28-10 to essentially end the game.

WR Limas Sweed (1 targets)

It didn't matter in the grand scheme of things, but Sweed got an opportunity to make a big play late in the fourth quarter. With Pittsburgh already comfortably out in front, the backups entered the game. Sweed got behind the secondary for a deep ball that should have been caught and run in for a 66 yard touchdown. The only problems is that Sweed forgot to catch the ball first and it bounced off his hands for an incompletion.

TE Heath Miller, Rec: 3 - 37 - 1 (5 targets)

Miller, who missed the first meeting between these teams with an injury, made up for lost time by catching a key touchdown pass on Pittsburgh's opening possession of the second half. That score helped turn the tide of the game and transform a 14-10 nail biter into what would eventually become a blowout.

Miller had earlier lost thirteen receiving yards after Pittsburgh was whistled for an illegal formation penalty. And he also lost an opportunity for a big play when Roethlisberger simply misfired a pass to him in the flat, a play on which he was wide open.

PK Jeff Reed 0 - 0 FG, 5 - 5 XP, 5 points

Reed was never called upon to attempt a field goal. Pittsburgh passed up a chance to attempt a 52 yard field goal late in the first quarter due to the weather conditions. They also passed up an 18 yard attempt to start the fourth quarter, instead opting to go for it on fourth down at the San Diego one yard line. They were stopped short.

PIT Rush Defense

The Chargers ran the ball just twelve times for a measly 15 yards, so that should tell you just about all you need to know about how well Pittsburgh played. They were basically living in the San Diego backfield on handoffs, and held the lightning fast Darren Sproles to a long run of just eight yards. That means they allowed him just seven yards on his ten other carries, an amazing 0.7 YPC average.

PIT Pass Defense

The Steelers opened the contest on very shaky ground, allowing a 41 yard touchdown to Vincent Jackson on San Diego's opening possession. CB Ike Taylor was beaten on the play and actually looked like he tried to interfere, but to no avail. Soon after, Jackson beat the Steelers for what appeared to be a 43 yard pass down the sideline. However, that play was overturned after a challenge. Still, the defense was beaten badly on the play. Pittsburgh really settled down after that, and began to make things happen.

In the third quarter, a deflected Philip Rivers pass ended up in the hands of LB Larry Foote for the interception. The Steelers also really started getting after Rivers, putting a ton of pressure on him and getting to him more and more as the lead grew larger and larger. They allowed a couple of late touchdowns to Rivers that didn't mean much in the overall outcome, though it will negatively impact the stat line.


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